‘There Should Be Only One President’

Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov wants to do away with the title of president in Chechnya, saying that “in a single state there should be only one president, and in [federal] subjects the top figures can call themselves the head of the republic, head of the administration, or governor.” Oddly, Moscow appears not to be behind this. Stranger still, other Russian republics in the North Caucasus want to do the same thing. Tom Balmforth explores the possible reasons behind this trend in Russia Profile today:

Some analysts say Kadyrov’s move isn’t the result of puppeteering by the Kremlin, which has consistently sought to tighten up its “power vertical” political model. If Moscow was using Kadyrov to foment the Russia-wide standardization of its numerous regional titles, then this move would have been buttressed by new legislative drafts issued in the Russian capital, said Nikolai Petrov, an expert on regional politics for the Carnegie Moscow Center. “It would have been logical for the Kremlin to come up with a draft which makes titles used in regions uniform – not only with regard to the naming of leaders, but also with naming regional assemblies. To my mind the move looks more like Kadyrov’s own initiative, and a desire to show his loyalty to the Kremlin through pretty cheap means,” said Petrov.

Observers may have originally seen the proposal – particularly the idea of calling Kadyrov “imam” – as part of the ongoing effort in Chechnya to Islamize the republic and create a state-friendly ideological alternative to the insurgency’s extreme version of Islam. But Petrov played this idea down: “The Islamization is already going on. It doesn’t matter what they call him.”

Meanwhile, Kadyrov’s proposal has apparently caught on among theleaders of Russia’s troubled North Caucasus region. First to agreepublically was Kabardino-Balkaria President Arsen Kanakov. “Themajority of citizens of the Russian Federation associate these names[of president] with the federal organs of power,” Kanakov reasoned.Next to do so was Karachayevo-Cherkessia President Boris Ebzeev, whosaid on Sunday that Kadyrov’s “idea itself is very well-timed andtruthful; it is related to the fact that the word ‘president’… hasacquired some sacral sense both in the Russian language and in ourpolitical system,” RIA Novosti reported.

Indeed, all of the remaining presidents in the region – those fromAdygeya, Dagestan, Ingushetia, Kabardino-Balkaria,Karachayevo-Cherkessia – have reached the same conclusion, according toKadyrov’s press secretary. “In the second half of [Friday] Kadyrov hada phone conversation with the heads of the republics during which hetalked about his initiative. Everyone supported it, and now they planto appeal jointly to the State Duma,” Kadyrov’s spokesman said.

But officials in Moscow deny than any such appeal for changing thefederal law is actually necessary. Speaking to the Kommersant businessdaily over the weekend, Alexander Moskalets, the head of the State DumaCommittee for Constitutional Legislation, said that while under federallaw all regional heads are equal before the law and equallyaccountable, what they call themselves “is a matter of their taste andthoughts.”